Q: Why does a helicopter make sense?
A: I have the privilege of witnessing much of the world’s geography first hand, visiting by helicopter locations few ever do. I see Nature unfold in front of me and meet people making an individual difference. The perspective is unique.
Q: What is Sustainable Development?
A: It is living within Earth’s means, not overspending her ecological budget. And that means respecting absolute planetary boundaries and accounting for both Nature and People when making profit - it does not mean NO development. Sustainable development, climate change and extreme poverty are so interlinked that they cannot be tackled in isolation.
Q: Why go at all. Just give the money directly to charity?
A: The project creates a platform of enormous leverage, amplifying the awareness of the issues and raising more money for the good causes. It helps to answer the question 'why should we change'.
Q: How much of the money actually goes to the cause?
A: ALL donations go to the charities. This is split 50% Save the Children, 50% Motivation International. The crew, supported by product placements and service contributions, cover ALL the costs. For every £1 raised, Motivation International spend 86p directly on helping to improve the quality of life of the disabled people around the world. For every £1 Save the Children receives, it spends 88p on its activities to benefit children. This is confirmed by Charity Commission reports.
Q: Why have you chosen the routes that you have?
A: I want to meet local people whose stories inspire others to make their individual difference to sustainable development.
I also want to avoid bad weather and diplomatically difficult areas as far as I can. Finally, working with people who support my objectives, I end up with a route to plan.
Q: Were you lonely on the Africa Journey?
A: I was alone for sure, but never by myself. While flying I was being watched by GASE and in constant contact using the Delorme text facility. On the ground I was meeting so many interesting people through the aviation side and then at the visits and hospitality. People everywhere would strike up a conversation.
Q: Doesn’t the sun fry your electronics in the hot desert?
A: Yes, it does! This is a real problem since I rely on iPad applications for both planning and flying. My strategy is to reposition these electronic items out of direct sunlight and cover them with little cloths as far as possible. Whenever possible I land with the sun to my back in spite of the protestations from ground handlers. I will also throw a little towel over my cameras and the instrument binnacle immediately on shut down. The front cover for the helicopter takes only two minutes to pull on, and during refuelling stops I will get that on every time to block the sun.
Q: It is really possible to eliminate extreme poverty?
A: The facts now show that if we can change people’s mindsets about extreme poverty, it is a game changer for the world. Hans Rosling explains why ending poverty – over the coming decades – is crucial to stop population growth here. Only by raising the living standards of the poorest, in an environmentally friendly way, will population growth stop at 9 billion people in 2050.
There is NO business case for maintaining extreme poverty.
Q: Why have you chosen a big charity and a little charity?
A: I have chosen successful charities with a track record. A large charity covers more of the regions of the world and it gives me reach to the sustainable development issues locally. A small charity is practical, making the difference individual by individual. Together the different perspectives help me to keep ‘my feet on the ground’.
Q: Can you get insurance for what you are doing?
A: Yes. Hayward Aviation covers the helicopter already for Helicopter Services Limited under its company policy. I consult with Hayward on my route and they issue cover for the purpose of the trip. For personal cover I need Search and Rescue followed by Medical Repatriation should the unlikely occur. I used a combination of Dogtag Activities Travel Insurance and GEOS Search and Rescue Insurance. Dogtag is the only insurance I found to cover the Greenland sector at a sensible price.
Q: Which Satphone did you make work in the helicopter?
A: I tried an Iridium Extreme handheld for Africa, but I couldn’t make calls from the helicopter. So, I migrated to an Iridium i-GO with WIFI connection to my iPhone, which is Bluetooth connected to the Bose headsets. This meant I had Satphone connection for the required ‘Operations Normal’ calls in Taiwan, Russia and Greenland. The i-GO is portable, and I dismount and carry it when away from the helicopter.
Q: What did you do for maps; you must have had a lot of them?
A: I didn’t carry a single paper map! I was worried about getting hold of maps while researching the project. However, the problem I had to solve was navigation, radio frequencies and obstacles. The solution was a combination of Runway HD and its worldwide vector map and database, plus the maps Airbox does have; the Garmin 795 worldwide database with obstacles for Europe and the USA; the Garmin 420 in the helicopter, and Garmin Pilot also on my iPad; and, Jeppesen’s Mobile FliteDeck for airport plates, procedures, FIR boundaries and frequency information. I always ask for local advice from the Flight Planning Office or any local pilot, and I always ask for the next frequency from the Station I am working. If I lose contact I look up the nearest big airport in RunwayHD, Garmin Pilot or Jeppesen and give them a call. If that fails I will ask for a relay from Speedbird above.
Q: Have you had any scary moments?
A: Yes, I have had a few! They are almost always weather related in spite of my best planning intentions. I had my heart in my mouth when I got caught in a brownout while flying between Tamanrasset, Algeria and Agadez, Niger in the Sahara Desert. Then the ‘pop-up’ tropical thunderstorms I encountered in Central America were also gripping entertainment! South America presented both tropical weather and high wind challenges in the Amazon and Patagonia respectively.
Q: What has been the standout message so far?
A: People do not yet see the consequences of their collective actions on the Earth. It doesn’t matter where they are from: developed USA to desperately poor Haiti. People seem to exist or survive in their own system.
The pristine forest habitat in Asia has all but gone. The land is use for growing palm oil trees, with devastating consequences for the animals that live there in Malaysia and Indonesia. Stunning to see.
Q: Have you had to divert during flight?
A: I have set down a couple of times to wait out weather. However, flying from Tuxtla, Mexico to Guatemala City I avoided poor weather high over the mountains, but had to divert to El Salvador when Guatemala City was clouded in.
Q: What has been your best weather flying?
A: I had great flying weather in Sub-Saharan Africa. Greenland was beautiful clear blue too. The simple answer though is, California. San Diego sky defines the colour blue for me.
Q: Where has been your best flying so far?
A: This is a big category, including the Sahara Desert, the coast-wise flying in South Africa, West Africa and in particular Rwanda and the Rift Valley, the Magdalena River System in Colombia, the mountains and tundra of Eastern Russia, the New York Heli-routes, and Labrador. However, the most stunning for me is Greenland; the ice caps, glaciers, fjords, icebergs, azure blue water, the ink blue sea are so beautiful, especially in the perfect weather I experienced.
Q: What has been your best bit of kit/ technology?
A: There are many candidates for this too including, the intelligent clothing, the humble crystal stick for underarm, Google Translate, and the tail rotor dust cover. The prize goes to the autopilot with sponsorship support from Genesys. The autopilot helped significantly to reduce my cockpit workload and improve my safety.
Q: Did you experience any health issues?
A: I contracted Dengue Fever in either Puerta Princesa, the Philippines or while in Brunei. It was picked up by Quarantine on entry at Kaohsiung, Taiwan. It slowed me down all the way through Japan and was fortunately no worse than that!
Q: Can you fly when it is windy?
A: I often get asked this. The simple answer is yes, we can still start and fly if it is windy. However, flying or manoeuvring slowly (say below about 30 knots airspeed) when it is windy requires awareness of what makes the tail rotor effective for controlling heading and skill to mitigate the conditions under which tail rotor effectiveness can be lost.
Loss of tail rotor effectiveness is a complicated subject, which all helicopter pilots should understand well. Simplistically put our options are crabbing and landing into wind. Obviously if we had a head wind our range would also be limited.
We experienced 50 knot tailwinds in Greenland, 40 knot headwinds in Patagonia, and 20 to 30 knot cross winds in Patagonia and Liberia. Then on top there were gusts, rotors, turbulence, funnelling and thermal activity, which all made it ‘bumpy’ especially with ground features. Big winds and big ground features were a big challenge, and dangerous.
This was the business end of flying and sometimes it needed doing. This was why I practiced with DIGA lightly loaded in greater than 25 knots in the UK. And why I tried only to pick good days for high mountain flying once on the journeys.